Since I’m pretty much in charge right now and since there’s not a whole lot you can do to stop me, here’s what we’re going to do as we get going with this wedding service: Jeri and Steve have chosen a couple Bible readings. But I’m not going to just read them straightforward. I’m going to interrupt to offer my running commentary as we go through them.
We’re going to start with two verses from a part of the Bible called Song of Solomon. Solomon was the greatest king of the time, like we’d think of Elvis now. The name Solomon gets associated with this because he was the premier lover of the Bible. It said that “among his wives were 700 princesses and 300 concubines” (1Kgs11:3). Now, that’s neither a Disney version of princesses nor is polygamy a helpful idea to put into anyone’s head right at this occasion of holy matrimony.
Nevertheless, this Song of Solomon book of the Bible is a love poem. Not only that, it especially appeals to middle school boys because it’s fairly graphically sexual. The couple of verses we’ll hear today may seem tame by comparison, but actually they’re describing the passion and intensity of love that we’re foolish if we think pales for not being NC-17.
These verses start this way: Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm. I tried to convince Steve that he should arrive for the wedding by water-skiing up onto the shore here. And similarly with the lake in the background, I thought it would be cool if I could arrange for a seal to swim up and sit on my arm, since the Bible verse said, “Set me as a seal upon your arm.”
Obviously, this is a different seal. Neither is it quite like when we think of sealing an envelope, meaning putting it off limits. While we’re going to wrap this up with Stevie Wonder singing “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” which may make us think of the marriage license getting to the county clerk over on the other side of the lake, this is more a like a seal of approval, an official marker. You’re exchanging rings, Steve and Jeri, an official marker of being bound together, a seal of approval for each other.
It’s much more than that, too. It’s about conviction. The Bible verse continues: for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Your vows will mark this relationship for “as long as you both shall live.” This love is a key part of who you are, of your identity, but even more of what it means to be alive, of what your existence is committed to. That’s serious passion.
Which is where the verse goes next, saying love’s flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. Maybe that’s another good reference to the lake, with a visual symbol, of a fire burning so intensely that all this water couldn’t put it out. Or maybe we take it more literally and think if rainwaters flooded the basement of your new house. As you’ve said, even that bad stuff won’t wreck your marriage or stop your love.
Our portion of the love poem summarizes this investment in each other with financial terms: If one offered for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly scorned. It can’t be bought, it can’t be sold. By economic standards, all we can say is that your love is a gift.
Let’s move to the other reading, a few verses from a book of the Bible called Ecclesiastes. This is a teacher trying to impart wisdom. Whereas the love letter was filled with passion and lofty statements, this wisdom isn’t. It’s got observations like: “It is good for people to eat well, drink a good glass of wine, and enjoy their work for however long God lets them live” (5:18, NLT). There’s nothing really wrong with that, to enjoy your job and to have a drink, or to celebrate today, but it’s still kind of dismal or morbid and not very hopeful to say, “enjoy it now because soon you’ll be dead.”
To be fair, that wasn’t the verse you chose, so maybe I shouldn’t even have mentioned it. Your reading starts with this: Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. Again, that’s a good, simple, wise observation that teamwork is helpful, that you can share the load and celebrate accomplishments together. It continues: For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. I think this is being metaphorical, but again you could look to the future when you’re both really old and somebody falls and breaks a hip, but the other is there to call 911.
Here’s more: Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? The Bible was written before electric blankets, but we could say that it’s better to have somebody to snuggle up with.
It goes on to say, for whatever it’s worth, you’ll be good together in a fight, that though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. If nothing else, maybe that’s a reminder to try taking each other’s side as much as possible.
From all that reflection on being a pair, a couple, partners, two. all of a sudden the Bible verse adds something else. It concludes by saying, A threefold cord is not quickly broken. Now, do we figure that number three is Hank the French bulldog? Or is it saying that as good as two is, that to get through the worst moments of life you need the support of all these family and friends who gather around you?
There’s one more explanation. Both of these Bible readings are interesting because these are two of the only books in the Bible that don’t ever mention God. But we may nevertheless expect that God shows up and is there in the mix of your lives together and all. Maybe we recognize God’s presence in love that is passionate even in the face of death, that cannot be quenched and will always be there for each other, the love of Jesus that assures us of more to come. Maybe when you need the extra support and life feels frayed almost to breaking, that is God’s presence showing up to strengthen you, the mysterious third part that is wound around you and binding you up.
Maybe even as you turn next to pour sand to fill a jar, bringing those colors together in a totally unique and vibrant, inseparable way, maybe we think of God as the spaces of invisible air that still surround it, or as the molecules that make it up, or the forces that bind it together. Maybe that’s how we see it.
At any rate, God loves you, and thanks be to God for your love.